Rhymefest's revolution

Staff WriterNovember 6, 2009 

  • Who: The Seventh Seal Tour, featuring Rakim, Rhymefest, DJ BRORABB and The Urban Sophisticates.

    When: 9 p.m. Thursday

    Where: Lincoln Theatre, 126 E. Cabarrus St.

    Cost: $20 (advance), $25 (day of show)

    Info: 821-4111; www.lincolntheatre.com

Rhymefest is heavily, personally conflicted about something right now. He's wondering whether or not to see "Michael Jackson's This Is It." Seriously.

Fans of the no-age-giving Chicagoan and "raptivist" (real name: Che Smith) know how much the dearly departed King of Pop meant to him. Last year, he dropped a "dedication album" online known as "Man in the Mirror" where he sampled many songs from the Jackson catalog, while paying tribute to the man in his verses.

"There's a part of me that doesn't know if I want to go see it," Rhymefest says over the phone. "While all the fans and everybody is like 'Oh, Michael Jackson! Oh, this is great! THIS IS IT!' you know, Michael wouldn't have wanted this. He wouldn't have wanted it like this. Michael, if he were alive, would more than likely say, 'Don't go see that [expletive]. That [expletive] is spitting on me,'youknowhamsayin. Like, he'd probably work against that movie.

"You know, it's corporate hounds that are like, 'We're gonna make some [expletive] money off him. He's not just gonna die on us,' youknowhaimean. And so, it's a bit of an issue for me."

Seeing an artist still be a slave to those corporate hounds, even after death, is something Rhymefest dealt with himself a few months back. In 2005, the rapper was signed to J Records, which released his debut album, "Blue Collar," the following year. While not a big seller, "Collar" was met with critical raves; it included production work from Mark Ronson, Cool & Dre, Just Blaze and Kanye West, who appeared on the album's first single, "Brand New." Unfortunately, when it came time to release the follow-up, the aptly named "El Che," things kept getting in the way.

"You know, you find when you're on a major label sometimes, they have meetings about meetings," he says. "And some people believe in the project, some don't. ... And, in the meantime, you're living a life, and it's inhibiting your life. It's inhibiting the people who do like you. Hell, if 150,000 people bought my record, youknowhaimean, then those 150,000 people are leaving while you're having a meeting about last week's meeting, youknowhamsayin. They're finding other people to enjoy. So, I couldn't wait around for that, you know."

After J Records released him of his contract (and gave him a nice, fat check for his trouble), he struck a partnership with dN|Be Entertainment, which will release a different, more independent version of "Che." While the J Records version had appearances from West and Lil Jon, this version will feature appearances from Saigon, Joe Budden and North Carolina boys Little Brother and Darien Brockington.

The album (scheduled for release next March) will also include a documentary Rhyme fest is working on while on tour with hip-hop great Rakim.

You see,Rhymefest is all about living a life that's similar to his namesake, Che Guevara. So, much like when a young Guevara traveled across South America on a motorcycle, coming in close contact with the people, Rhymefest is doing the same. The rapper had an online contest a while back where people could win the chance to have Rhymefest stay in their homes. (He'll be staying with a DJ/freelance writer when he's in the Triangle.) Rhyme fest will be recording the interactions for the documentary.

For Rhymefest, it's not just about living up to the name he was given, but living up to the movement he wants to establish with his music. He says, "It's no way that I can name my album something so important or pretend to be or try to capture the vibe of revolution without making the album not just music, but making the album the revolution, making it a movement."

craig.lindsey@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4760

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